25th August 2000 at 01:00
HOW THE FUTURE BEGAN SERIES. Everyday Life. Machines. By Clive Gifford. Communications. By Anthony Wilson. Kingfisher pound;9.99 each.

People who speculate about the future tend to fall into one of two camps. The optimists are often technophiles, those who believe that scientific advances hold out the prospect, if not the guarantee, of a better future.

While not exactly technophobes, the pessimists point to a past in which technological change has benefited some far more than others and, they say, will do so again.

Clive Gifford and Anthony Wilson have seen the future and, for the most part, it works for them. Their three-part series, How the Future Began, anticipates scientific advances in the light of past experience and finds more to look forward to than not. Written in a clear, brisk style and packed with interesting photographs and colourful, exciting futurescapes, their vision will have many young readers agog at things to come.

Everyday Life, for example, considers the possibility of rain-forming mesicopters - insect-size fying machines that will help bring rain from clouds. Then there are hypersonic airliners that will whisk us anywhere in little more than the time we now spend at the baggage carousel. Or robot vacuum cleaners that will automatically detect and clean up spills. Mr Dyson is probably working on them even now.

Machines and Communications hold out similar prospects. Sensors built into showers will daily monitor a user's health. Teachers especially will look forward to active noise control, a system that will create a pool of silence when desired. Burglars, on the other hand, will be peeved to learn that microchips will allow devices only to work in the house for which they were bought.

And, it seems, conventional books will eventually be replaced by e-books, machines that will store pages electronically. In fact, "printed books may become collectors' items by 2050". A dreadful thought but, if true, one that makes these books particularly worth hanging on to. You won't find a better memento of a bygone medium.

Laurence Alster

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